Here at Sunshine People, we often talk about being kind to others… But it’s just as important to be kind to ourselves. One of the easiest ways to do this is to be outside in nature.
It’s scientifically proven that nature has a positive influence on our mental and of course physical health. Multiple studies show that those who spend time outdoors have lower stress levels, improved memory, better focus, and longer lifespans. As such, those who feel connected to the natural world are happier, kinder people.
Mental Health Foundation research on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 has identified going outside for walks as a key coping strategy for handling the mental pressures of the pandemic. Ironically, it’s when our mental health is worst that we most struggle to go outside.
To encourage people to spend more time outside, this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is themed on nature. In the words of Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world.
As part of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme, mental health organisations are asking people to share their stories of how nature has positively impacted their mental health using the #ConnectWithNature hashtag.
But, if we want to benefit from thriving green spaces, we need to be kind to the environment itself.
In recent years, environmental awareness has seen a much-needed resurgence – and with good reason. Global temperatures have risen to an alarming rate. More and more animals face endangerment and extinction. Every global ecosystem is now under immense pressure from humanity’s continued destruction of the natural world.
Fortunately, the UK government is starting to accept the seriousness of ecological decline and take important (albeit small) steps to reverse the impact of climate change. A new Environment Bill is going through parliament which will reshape environmental law. The UK will host this year’s G7 Summit, where nations will discuss climate change as a top priority. And, towards the end of the year, the UN’s international Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow to find real solutions to the climate crisis.
While much of the responsibility to find solutions to ecological collapse – which could arguably be called ‘environmental unkindness’ – lies with institutions and businesses, individuals have the power to ‘rewild’ their lives as much as possible by finding, enjoying, and sharing natural spaces.
Sadly, according to the Office of National Statistics, 12% of British households have no access to a garden. And, for those that do, this may be restricted to a small rectangle of concrete. But there are many more ways to make time for nature. In Japan, the stresses of urban life have led to the popular practice of ‘forest bathing’ – going into a wooded area and lying down amongst the trees.
For those of us without a garden, our local park is the easiest place to get close to nature. Making these spaces inviting and accessible to all is a massively impactful way to encourage people to appreciate nature and is something anyone can do by treating the park with kindness. It’s as simple as picking up litter and feeding the wildlife with suitable foods. Moving beyond this, organising nature trails and environmental clean-ups is a low-effort, zero cost way to be actively kind to nature, and to teach others to do the same.
By being kind to nature, not only are we kind to ourselves, but we’re also kind to everyone and everything who shares these environments with us. As climate change continues to threaten the natural world, treating nature with active kindness is more important than ever.
For more information on Mental Health Awareness Week, visit https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week.